We drink beer chilled in icy buckets at house parties or served from tap at bars and restaurants. It is enjoyable to share beer with family and friends over delicious dishes and juicy stories. So enjoyable that some of us unwind with a drink or two every week, with or without company.
The staple that beer has become in our lives shows our love for it, but how often do you take a moment to appreciate beer—craft beer, more particularly—that is brewed with a unique character, flavour profile, and distinct aromas? After all, we pay close attention to the taste of food, which has become our instinct.
We are not trying to change the way you drink beer.
What we are after is to add more to what you already know about one of the most-consumed alcoholic beverages in the world, to help you understand its complexities, and to let you discover your preferences.
At the end of this sensory guide for beginners, we hope that every time you open a craft beer, it becomes a special occasion on its own, a completely enjoyable experience that stimulates all your five senses.
Hold That Beer, Get This First
Before grabbing your craft beer, get your hands on our Beer Tasting Sheet. This handy tool provides a fun and proper way of describing beer from its appearance down to mouthfeel. It is easy to follow for enthusiasts at any level. Download it here for free.
Appreciating beer begins from its bottle or can. Check out the design on the label that hints at the beer’s adventurous character, its storied origin, or the drinking experience that the beer promises to bring. Many craft breweries put time and effort into the expressive packaging of their products, and eye-catching visuals can jumpstart your excitement.
Too Cold is Too Much
An icy cold drink may feel thirst-quenching, but not when drinking craft beer. Cold temperatures bury the flavors while ice dilutes them. That said, Ales are ideally served warmer at 6-12°C while Lagers are served colder at 4-8°C. When taking a bottle or can out of the fridge, leave it out for a few minutes before opening it.
Opening a bottle or can of craft beer may come off as a minor step inconsequential some enthusiasts won’t bother about. Still, listening closely to that quick, subtle pop can reveal the level of carbonation in the beer and sometimes whiff up gentle aromas. The faint sound of beer filling a glass is also often unnoticed, but it can also draw more anticipation and start engaging your senses.
Beer Glass is a Must
The best way to drink craft beer is from a glass appropriate to its style, which we’ll mention in a bit. A proper pour starts with the glass tilted at 45 degrees and should be done with vigor. As your glass gets filled, slowly tip the glass straight while keeping the stream at the center.
In this vital step, all the carbonation in the beer is released. It is evident through the rising of bubbles that settles into a good beer head at the rim of the glass. Also, before taking a swig, take time to observe the beer’s color and clarity, which is hard to detect from the bottle or can. It says a lot about the sweetness and maltiness of the beer and its distinct style.
To tell which beer glass is appropriate, consider the shape that tells its function. Slightly slender Pilsner glass is ideal for most Lagers as it reveals clarity and color and promotes head retention. Meanwhile, Pint or Tulip glasses are ideal for Pale Ales and IPAs. They’re designed to capture the delicate aromas when lifted to the nose.
Smell the Aromas
After pouring the beer properly, let the head retain to allow for the release of aromas. Take a whiff of the scent that may come off as fruity, floral, citrusy or others that you can detect. It may be subtle, but it is a good indicator of the complex flavors in the beer.
If you find it difficult to recognize any aroma at all, give your glass a good swirl to again release some carbonation.
Complexity in Taste
The aromas from a craft beer naturally usher in the beer's complex flavors. While bitterness is often the easiest flavor to detect, it is just one dimension.
To properly taste your beer, allow it to stay in your mouth for a few seconds before gulping it down. From your initial bitter impression, try to compare it with other familiar flavors that you know. Are these detectable flavors strong or faint? Do they remind you of citrusy, floral, or herbal things?
What you have considered bitter at first might have a blend of sweetness to balance it out, which all depends on closer observations.
Moving on from the actual taste, the mouthfeel of a craft beer describes the sensation it brings. A beer high in alcohol content gives off that warming feeling, while a crisp and refreshing beer is often described as cooling.
The mouthfeel also comprises of body and carbonation. As it suggests, a light body in a craft beer usually means clear or watery, while a full-bodied beer is full and heavy. Meanwhile, the carbonation level depends on the brewing style. It is up to your perception whether there is too much, too little, or just right.
Reach the Finish
A craft beer’s after-taste is also known as the finish. Take a few sips of your beer while pausing in between and figure out the taste that lingers and how long you can sense it. It can be sweet, bitter, or something that changes as the beer gets warmer. The variant or type of beer largely affects this taste component.
Enjoy the Experience
Craft breweries spend a lot of time and effort creating a product they truly love. The best way to show respect is by experiencing their beer through all your senses. We hope that our sensory guide unlocked a new level of knowledge and gave you the confidence in knowing your preferences.
At the end of the day, it’s your personal taste that counts. May you enjoy tasting more craft beers and sharing the experience with your family and friends!